Glossary: Cultural Imperialism

This digitally altered photo re-imagines the iconic World War II image of soldiers raising the American flag.

This digitally altered photo re-imagines the iconic World War II image of soldiers raising the American flag.


Cultural Imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, and artificially injecting the culture or language of one nation in another.

Under this system, eventually certain traits of the usually economic and militaristic dominant culture are enmeshed with the original culture to the point that they are no longer inextricable from one another. Cultural imperialism can either be imparted formally, through government policies, or informally through general attitudes and perceptions. It is a form of imperialism different from other types, which are gained through military or economic force – like war or economic sanctions. Cultural imperialism does not necessarily need the military or economic policies in order to significantly impact the culture of another country.

Historically, cultural imperialism has been achieved through exploration or military excursions and it dates back to the beginning of human time. Today, the pervasiveness of American culture is not just owed to the might of the military or the economy but also to its popularity. Spread through media, marketing, and language, it’s hard to go most places in the world and not see the influence of American culture.

Examples of cultural imperialism are many. British colonialism led to the widespread use of the English language throughout the world. Similarly, the popularity of cricket almost directly correlates to the countries the British colonized. The global presence of Christianity dates back to the crusades, European colonialism and continues through missionary work. In China, the creation of a standardized Chinese language has begun to cause the extinction of regional dialects. Of course, “Americanization” has led to the popularity of brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks throughout the world.

It cannot be denied that American culture is in itself a large mixture of different cultural practices that have been combined. The rich tradition of immigration has had a huge influence on what we consider American culture. As such, bits and pieces of this culture reflect back some of that which is familiar to immigrants and appealing to those abroad.

One of the major issues with cultural imperialism is that the spread of certain aspects of a dominant culture – especially those that advance Western commercial interests – leads to the creation and establishment of local elites. These elites are then in service to the dominant culture which ultimately proves to be detrimental to the local sociocultural economy and morals. As such, many indigenous traditions and values are now considered archaic and abandoned in favor of modernization. Though arguments can be made about the intent of these endeavors or whether the homogenization of the world is a good thing, it is hard to deny that the beauty of this world is the rich tapestry that is made up of different languages, traditions and foods. It therefore seems not only important, but essential, that there be considerable efforts made to value traditions and retain diversity.

by Jasmine Ruiz

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1 Comment

  1. sciophobiaranger

     /  July 2, 2014

    Talk about ignorance. A disrespectful picture. It’s called globalization, companies from all around the world have enormous popularity.



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